Less than a day after the Mavericks' triumph over the Heat in the Finals, we must face facts: The NBA season is over and we will have to contend ourselves with off-court stories for at least the next four months. It's a sad fact of following a sport obsessively: Eventually, the games end and issues of lesser importance must occupy the brain.
However, that doesn't mean we can't have fun with it. For instance, Friday brought us a moment of epic schadenfreude just below the level of the Heat's loss Sunday night. Donald Sterling, little-loved owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has to pay former coach Mike Dunleavy $13 million after failing to pay him his rightful salary following his dismissal in March 2010.
An arbitrator has awarded former Clippers general manager and coach Mike Dunleavy slightly more than $13 million in compensation.
The Clippers had quit paying Dunleavy immediately after firing him last year, on March 8, and he was forced to take the organization to binding arbitration. He had been owed $6.75 million on the contract, $1.35 million for the remainder of the 2009-10 season and $5.4 million for the season just completed.
If you're keeping score, that's now one case won by Sterling in the last few months and one lost, although his acquittal in Elgin Baylor's wrongful termination suit stands as a more important victory than the arbitrator's decision in the Dunleavy affair. The former would have cost Sterling serious money and potentially would have forced the league to deem him unfit for ownership; the latter will just cut into his bank account.
Nevertheless, it's nice to see Dunleavy get the money his contract required him to receive. As Dillman notes in her article, Sterling has a history of not paying fired employees the money their contracts demand, but most don't go through with lawsuits because the legal fees are too high for such small amounts of money. But $13 million is a lot of money, so Dunleavy carried this one out to the end and was rewarded for it. Still, it took a long time -- he filed a few weeks after his firing last year and only saw the case go in front of the arbitrator two months ago.
Clippers general counsel Robert Platt quickly said that the franchise would look into all possible appeals and responses to the decision, but it looks for now like Sterling will have to pay Dunleavy. And while this single story is a small one in the grand scheme of Sterling's tenure as Clippers owner, you have to wonder at what point the NBA will decide he's more trouble than he's worth and do everything it can to force him to sell the franchise. Up until now, the other 472 embarrassing events in his career weren't enough. Maybe the 473rd time's the charm.